The governing U.K. Conservative Party was punished at the ballot box on Thursday as it lost parliamentary seats in two by-elections and narrowly kept a historically safe seat in a third.
A Labour Party gain in the Selby and Ainsty constituency was followed by a Liberal Democrat gain in the Somerton and Frome by-election, both at the Conservatives’ expense.
Both results saw considerable swings of 23.7 percent and 29 percent, respectively, away from the governing party in favor of the victors. The seats had been held by the Conservative Party since 2010 and 2015, respectively.
The Conservatives were dealt a hammer blow in Somerton and Frome, in particular, with new Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Dyke securing a majority of 11,008, while in Selby and Ainsty, newcomer MP Keir Mather now enjoys a majority of 4,161. Mather is also the youngest MP in the current House of Commons at the age of 25.
Meanwhile, despite a 7.4 percent swing away from the Conservatives, the governing party managed to cling on in the third by-election of the day, held in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, the former seat of Boris Johnson. Johnson resigned from parliament last month ahead of a report from the House of Commons’ Committee of Privileges into whether he misled parliament over parties held at Downing Street during the coronavirus lockdowns.
Conservative candidate Steve Tuckwell managed to enter parliament by the slimmest of margins, holding on to a majority of just 495 and preventing a bad night for the Tories from turning into a nightmare.
The by-election results see Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s parliamentary majority drop to 56, still a very comfortable margin but a far cry from the 80-seat majority won under Boris Johnson’s leadership in the 2019 general election.
The results, however, deliver a stark warning to the Conservative Party, which has seen its support plummet across the country following 13 years in power, as the electorate is clearly turning away from a party that many believe has failed to deliver on its electoral promises.
With high inflation fueling the persistent cost-of-living crisis, “moderate” voters happy with the status quo in 2019 have turned away from the government. Meanwhile, a failure to control immigration has seen typical right-leaning voters refuse to turn out and endorse a party that has overseen record mass immigration for successive years.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak remained stoic on Friday after the crushing defeats, insisting that the next general election is “not a done deal,” despite the most recent polling last weekend showing his governing party with half the support of the Labour opposition.
“By-elections, mid-terms for an incumbent government are always difficult. They rarely win them,” Sunak told broadcasters on Friday morning.
“The message I take away is that we’ve got to double down, stick to our plan and deliver for people. That’s what I heard when I was out on the doorsteps and that’s what we’re going to do.
“We’re going to work incredibly hard to deliver on our five priorities and earn people’s trust for the next election,” he added.